Council on the move

IPSWICH Council is to move out of its Civic Centre headquarters by the end of next year, The Evening Star can confirm today.It will leave its home since the mid-1960s because that is cheaper than restoration work.

IPSWICH Council is to move out of its Civic Centre headquarters by the end of next year, The Evening Star can confirm today.

It will leave its home since the mid-1960s because that is cheaper than restoration work.

Experts estimate it would cost £13million to prolong the life of Civic Centre for just 15 years.

It will be cheaper to move to new headquarters in Ipswich Village than repair Civic Centre – and the move is set to pave the way for Waitrose to move into town.

The borough is to move into new offices it will share with a main police station and the new headquarters of the Ipswich Primary Care Trust.

While most council employees will move there, some will move to new offices around the town – including a town centre office probably on the lower floor of the Town Hall.

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This will mean the Age Concern tearooms and booking office for the Regent and Corn Exchange will move – but council officials say they will find new premises for the tearooms before they are given notice to quit.

The new offices will be considerably smaller than the existing premises at Civic Centre – they will only have half the space of the Civic Centre.

Its new offices will be rented – rather than owned outright – by the borough. The cost of renting them is estimated at between £1.9 and £2.6 million a year.

The annual cost of paying for a £13million overhaul of Civic Centre has been estimated at £2.5million a year – but that would be subject to interest rate fluctuations and in 15 years time it could need another rebuild.

The figures do not include the money the council will earn from selling its Civic Centre site – it has confirmed that John Lewis, the parent company of Waitrose, has made an enquiry about developing site.

It wants to build a food superstore there four times the size of Sainsbury's in Upper Brook Street, which would be the centrepiece of a new retail and residential development.

There would also be other shops, homes, and possibly even a hotel.

The existing spiral underground car park and the Wolsey Theatre would be retained – theatre bosses are very excited at the prospect of finding themselves next to a new shopping centre, expecting more casual visitors especially to the coffee bar during the day.

Ipswich council corporate director Laurence Collins said that Waitrose was not the only food giant to enquire about the site – but the Star understands it is way out in front in the race to develop the site.

"But we haven't added the resale value of the site into our calculations about the future of the Civic Centre.

"Our move is not dependent on selling the site on – for a start it is not certain whether vacant land will include the police station and the Hanover Housing homes in Black Horse Lane," he said.

"What we earn from the sale and redevelopment of this site will come to the council as a capital receipt which will boost our reserves."

Mr Collins said the programme for moving was tight.

"The proposed move will be discussed by the council's executive committee at the beginning of March and will then go to the full council."

Although the final decision is up to councillors, it is inconceivable that they will ignore the advice of senior officers and outside experts who have surveyed Civic Centre and vote to stay put when the executive meets on March 2.

"The idea would be that the work on building the offices would start in August this year and that we would leave Civic Centre by December 2005.

"It is very tight, but we have negotiated an agreement with our insurers so we don't have to do too much heavy maintenance on this building on the basis we will be moving out," he said.

Just over half the council workforce would be based in the new headquarters buildings – the remainder would work in various offices around the town.

"We would have about 50 people working in the Town Hall and between 10 and 40 at various other locations around the town so they are working nearer the people they are dealing with," said Mr Collins.

The council currently has 650 people working from the Civic Centre.

As well as offices, Civic Centre has significant storage and underused space. In the new offices records will be kept electronically rather than on paper so will not require so much storage space.

And there will be fewer individual offices and more open plan areas – and members of staff will not necessarily have their own desks but will be expected to share with colleagues.

Once Ipswich Council has abandoned Civic Centre, the 14-storey tower block is expected to be demolished during 2006 – removing what many people consider to be a blot on the landscape from the town skyline.

Chief executive James Hehir once said of his 12th storey office: "I have the best view in Ipswich. I can see all over the town – and I can't see Civic Centre!"

Residents of the Hanover Housing sheltered homes were shocked to receive letters before Christmas warning them that they could have to move soon.

The housing association – which specialises in providing sheltered homes for elderly people – pledged it would offer anyone forced to move priority in one of its other properties.

And it would pay them a relocation compensation sum of £3,100 plus removal costs.

Ipswich PCT spokeswoman Jan Rowsell said the organisation was delighted to be involved and was now going to start consulting with staff on the issue.

Because the formal paper is going to be discussed at the Borough Council meeting in March anyone who wants to get involved in consultation should contact the PCT before Feb 20.

Suffolk Police Authority has not yet formally agreed to move out of the Elm Street Police station – but members are understood to have discussed the move privately.

The move is expected to be confirmed by a full meeting of the Authority later this year.

nIs the borough right to move out of Civic Centre? Or should it spend money to restore the building? Write to: Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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